|Think about Loose Coupling|
Seems I've blundered into a commonly held misconception. So I stand corrected. There are many common misconceptions about NASA "inventions". Let's say then that NASA at least helped to market Velcro to the US public, just like Tang and Teflon.
So that leaves us with some of the more mundane trickle down technologies, for example:
Of course, this is the intellectual trap - NASA does actually invent things now & then, but their purpose is to solve technical design problems through applied engineering. It's always going to be easier to shop through a catalog for a material with the given properties that you need than it is to invent them from scratch. It's the novel composites & combinations that they come up with that lead to new industrial applications. Things like cordless power tools became commonplace because they were driven by design specifications of the Apollo program & inherently popularized through it at the same time. Yes, they already existed and probably would have developed on their own in isolation, but that the process was accelerated is obvious.
Manned space flight was never something that was inherently useful of itself. It's the idea of it, sold to the public,that says that the Future is Hopeful. The idea that humanity can overcome any challenge through perseverance, ingenuity and daring. Sure every country wants to toot it's proverbial horn & say "hey look what we did". I say let them. In the end, the ideas, data and technology doesn't have citizenship. The legacy is to the collective memory of the species.
The major downside is when national pride overrides science. For example, the lack of interest in a jointly funded project has led to heavy criticism of the ISS in terms of the quantity and quality of scientific research taking place. It seems that if no one gets the glory for the work, no one wants to pay for it, even when they get to split the tab.
And of course there is the Big Problem that NASA always has had to cope with - holding the American Attention Span. IMHO, the reports from those "toy cars" on Mars were the biggest problem. They were boring and came off as pointless. They had 3D panoramic views of another planet to show off but rather than convey a sense of wonder and scientific discovery, the team started right off by giving 6" rocks cutesy nicknames.
But there's more to it than PR pettiness. It's great that we got a probe to the surface of Titan, but was there no way to make something that would have lasted perhaps as long as an entire day? It's mission-choices like those that prompt questions like "How many school budgets could have been balanced with the $million spent on that?"
One thing that I think everyone can agree on is that there needs to be a better "bang for the buck" filter with regards to science. The trick of course is to have it be interesting science...
Wait! This isn't a Parachute, this is a Backpack!